Continental Airlines traffic jumped 8.5 percent in January

Continental Airlines, based in Houston, said that paying passengers flew 6.98 billion miles in January 2010, up from 6.43 billion miles in January 2009. (AP Photo)

February 2, 2010 8:23:21 AM PST
Continental Airlines Inc. says January traffic rose 8.5 percent from a year earlier but a key revenue measurement continued to fall, a sign that some high-fare customers are still staying away. Continental, based in Houston, said late Monday that paying passengers flew 6.98 billion miles last month, up from 6.43 billion miles in January 2009. That includes traffic on both Continental's mainline brand and regional affiliates such as Continental Express.

Capacity rose 2.8 percent, to 9.04 billion available seat miles, a measurement of one seat flown one mile.

With traffic rising faster than capacity, planes were fuller. Average occupancy, or load factor, rose to 77.2 percent from 73.2 percent in January 2009.

Despite passengers logging more miles, Continental said revenue per available seat mile, a closely watched indicator of pricing power and financial performance in the airline industry, fell between 1 percent and 2 percent from a year ago. The decline was even steeper on the main Continental brand, falling between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.

Still, the revenue measurement declines were smaller than in December and were more evidence that the airline industry is digging out from a deep, 2-year slump.

Continental shares rose 63 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $19.92 in Tuesday morning trading. Other carriers rose as well. The AMEX Airline Index was up 2.6 percent, with all 13 component stocks higher.